To My Dream Reader

Big_Black_Warrior_by_Gauntlesword girl I’m late with this assignment, but now that I’ve done it….

I  like the world of fantasy: swords, magic, femme fatales that are great with weapons, that will bed you as soon as kill you, intrigue that you’re always a step ahead of, and the fate of a hostile, ungrateful world that eventually comes down to the final battle with your most lethal opponent, and it’s all on you.

Something in those stories resonated, struck a chord, sparked something deep within, whatever phrase you want to use, but after reading my first fantasy novel (The Once and Future King, by T.H White), it was a world I kept returning to over and over again. I guess you could call it the need to be needed. I’ve always liked to be the hero who came to save the day, even if it was just in the mundane things of life:

:”Could you pick up my kid after school?”

“I need help with this tire.”

“Got change for a buck?”

Not exactly high adventure like a journey to Mordor, but the concept is the same.

It was my escape, my entertainment, my chance to see the world in the mind that I couldn’t see in the natural.

The truth is, most of us would not likely survive in such a world, because as beautiful as it may be, it is also as deadly, and mercy is a foreign concept. It truly was survival not only of the fittest, but of the meanest, the slickest, the most ruthless, and the extremely cruel.

Children who lived to adulthood, much less old age, were a rare commodity.

That does not comprise the makeup of most people, generally speaking. Most of us are at least civil, if not loving, toward one another. And so, we have fantasy; a chance to be heroes / heroines without true danger, but we all imagine ourselves to some degree as the characters in these stories.

I believe it’s because in our hearts, we want to be heroes, we’d love to be needed, and to be able to come to someone’s rescue and say, “Don’t worry, I’m here.”

Never let that fire go out, Dream Reader.

You will one day be someone’s hero. I’ve seen it happen too many times for it not to be so.

In the meantime, we have our books, our cosplay, our nerdy, dorky fellowships that don’t fit in, but most of all, we have our writing; and the worlds we create within, with our abilities to set things right, becomes for a time, our reality.

In worlds where none of us can stay,  both real and imaginary, we manage to survive, and find joy in the doing and sharing of it, if only for a moment.

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep dreaming, and you’ll come to know that “Once upon a time, (your name here)…..”

Making Warr (excerpt 2)

7.

We found a vacant flyer, white with red stripes. It looked like a flying candy cane.

“You drive.”

“Me? Why me?”

“It’s girly.”

“But you guys call me Ed.”

“It’s just a nickname.”

“I’ll change it officially before I ride in this; it’s ugly,” she said. “We’ll attract attention we don’t want, and people will make fun of us. Well, you.”

We waited until another one came in, dark blue, clean lines, driven by a bureaucratic drone, who looked us over as if we were beetles on a pincushion before wiping his travel program from the hologram key map.

She programmed the key with our map, and the flyer whirred to life.

“How’d you two meet?” Ed asked.

“Candace? I met her in high school.”

“I didn’t mean Candace.”

“Oh.”

“If you don’t want to tell me, it’s okay.”

“I don’t. Not now.”

“You miss her, don’t you?”
“Now we’re talking about Candace?”

“Yes.”

“Just making sure. Every day, Ed. They didn’t have to shoot up the neighborhood to find me.”

“They were sending you a message.”

“They killed my neighbors, innocent people. Children died. What was the message in that?”

She was quiet a moment, then she said “They’d do anything to anyone to get to you.”
“I didn’t consider myself that important.”

“Well, you were wrong.”

“No,” I said, struggling against the rise in my voice, “I wasn’t. They made me that important. It wasn’t the worth the show of violence and power. I’m going to find out who did it, and why, and then I’ll take care of it.”

“And after that?”

“I don’t expect to live ‘after that.’

“So how does Lliya fit in?”

“I’m going to ask for her help; the squad will be in Nanjasi looking for Steele’s key; it might be related, it might not. I don’t know what part I play; it seems pointless for them to go through all that and then summarily suspend me.

“Something’s going on, and since I don’t have the squad’s resources, I’m going to need Lliya.”

“Can you trust her?”

I chuckled with a grim humor. “In this context, I don’t know; I guess I’ll find out.”

***************

What I’d loved about Candace was that she wasn’t part of any of this; there were times I wanted to include her, and sometimes I’d start to, but she’d put her finger to my lips to stop me; and she was right, because if she ever became a part of it, we were both in danger, and she was my refuge.

If I defiled her with my knowledge of the world’s maggot- filled underbelly, I’d have no place to go to get clean and sane again.

*************

     It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, and she was rubbing my shoulders, humming   softly to herself.

   “What’s that song?” I asked.

   “I don’t know; I remember my mother humming it sometimes when she was in the kitchen.”

   “She never told you what it was?”

   “I never asked. Why?”

   “I don’t know; just seemed to me you would know something about it.”

   She stopped rubbing. “Why is it so important to you that I know about it?”

   I shook my head, “It’s not, babe. Forget I said anything.”

   She resumed. “It’s that mind of yours.” Her voice deepened, mocking me. ’All data must be analyzed and re-analyzed.’ Really Warren, it’s a pain in the anal-ize.”

   “Ha, you have jokes.”

    She sighed, “No, just one; a big one, right between my hands.”

   I reached back and pulled her into my lap as she squealed and laughed.

   “I’ll put a big one between your hands.”

   She wriggled her rump on my lap, and her voice grew husky as she drew close.

   “Oh, yeah? Big talk, big man. Back it up.”

   “I think that’s your part,” I said, slipping my hand inside her blouse.

    And then she kissed me, and time went away.

*****

“Warr, you listening?”

“What?”

“Put the shields on; it’s starting to rain.”

I put the shields on, and the rain slipped off around them, keeping thing visible.

The afternoon was turning into evening.

“You’re going to have to go pack for Nanjasi soon, right?”

“Not taking much. I’m a girl, but not a girly- girl, otherwise I would’ve flown in that candy cane and talked your ear off about how pretty it looked.”

“You thought it looked like a candy cane too?”

“Yep.” She pointed. “There’s her place,” she said. “No lights on.”

“Course not.”

“You know her haunts.” Again, not a question.

“I doubt I know them all, but we’ll try what I know first.”

8:

We split up; Ed walked one side of the street, and I walked the other.

It was dark when we finally found Lliya; she was in an aging bistro, peeling, spotted paint, dank upholstery, long past its prime, which made it great for clandestine meetings, and hiding. She was sipping something fancy and expensive from what looked like a ceramic thimble.

I signaled Ed, and she waved goodbye, mouthed the words, ‘Be careful,’ opened her coat like a flasher and smiled.

I returned it, shaking my head.

She closed the coat, turned up the collar against the drizzle, and started walking back.

I slid into the seat across from Lliya. She never looked up.

“Want a cup of this?”

“Does it come in a larger size?”

“No.”

“Pass.”

She shrugged. “What are you doing here?”

“Came to ask you a few questions.”

She sighed, looked up then. “I’ll save you the trouble: I didn’t set you up; you were happy with Candace, you were out of the life, you were out of mine, and I missed you, but not enough to do that.

“I don’t know why they took you, but if I had to guess, it was because out of all your squad, you’d worked everything. I don’t think sometimes you realize how long you’ve been at this.

“Surveillance, tech, infantry, sniper, impalement, martial arts; you’re a government agency wet dream. You’re not just a jack of all trades; you’re actually good at all of them.”

Kriley did say I was the best all around; still didn’t explain how I got caught.

“Any ideas who?”

“I know you’re thinking inside job; could be my people too. They didn’t send me after your squad. I came after you.”

“Why risk it, Lliya?”

“You’re an ass, Warr. Why do you think?”

“May I take your order sir?”

I’d been so focused on Lliya I didn’t see the waitress walk up.

“Is the food still good here?”

“They still have waitresses.”

“Something strong, with something broiled.”

The waitress smiled, her menu for savages at the ready: “Bourbon and steak?”

“I like you.”

“How do you want the steak?”

“Like a satisfied woman: well-done.”

Lliya sputtered out some of her droplet, and went into a coughing fit.

The waitress blushed and flounced away.

“Really?”

I shrugged.

“My god, how did you ever get Candace to marry you with lines like that?”

“I didn’t use lines like that on Candace.”

She sobered. “I’m sorry, Warr. I didn’t mean…”

“S’okay, Lliya. Drop it. We’re good.”

She gave us a minute to make sure I meant it. I did.

“Listen to me, okay? She can’t be a distraction, and it’s my fault for bringing her up. You know how I feel about you, but we’re on opposite sides here. You had a choice to make, and you did, and I stayed away.

“It seems that circumstances are putting us back together, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. If it comes down to it, Warr, you know I’ll kill you, and I know you’ll kill me. We’ll hate it, and we’ll mourn inside, and move on, but there’s no question whether or not we’d carry it out.”

Her voice took on a note of wistfulness.

“That’s what would’ve made us great, but it’s also what makes us impossible.”

“What?”

“Our devotion. It’s misdirected: it could’ve been for each other, but now it’s for what we do.”

“You didn’t have to be on the opposite side.”

“I didn’t choose it; I needed a job. We had history, and Kriley didn’t like it.”

“Screw Kriley.”

“Sometimes I wish I had; he would’ve left us alone.”

I looked at her.

“No, he never made a pass. Seriously, could you imagine?”

I couldn’t.

“Anyway,” she finished the liquid in her thimble, “it doesn’t matter now, does it? What do you need from me?”

I sat back, breaking the intangible tension.

“Well you’re right; I’m thinking it was inside, I just don’t know if it’s mine or yours. If it’s mine, I need someone from the outside looking in. I want you to shadow me, see if anything looks out of the ordinary, anybody I can’t see.

“Steele Industries has their own trackers on me; they’re good, but not as good as you, and they’ll be gone with nothing to report in a few days.”

“Wouldn’t Ed be better for this?”

“Don’t know, because I can’t use her. And if it’s on my side that would tip them off that I knew, though Ed is hard to track, and I think she’d do it. Anyway, they’re going to Nanjasi without me. I’ve been suspended for getting caught; the suits at Steele say I’m a liability.”

“The suits at Steele are wrong.”

“Kriley tried to say that, but they weren’t interested. Will you do it?”

She sighed.

The waitress came back with the bourbon.

“Should you be drinking?”

“Question is, shouldn’t you?”

She considered it.

“What the hell.” With that, she answered both questions.

I poured some into her thimble, but she took the glass from my hand.

“On the rocks ruins it,” she said.

“I didn’t want you taking advantage of me.”

She smiled.  “We both know I can do that whenever I want.”

I reached over and brushed a strand from her eyes, my thumb brushing her temple, and she wanted to lean into my hand, and I saw the effort not to; I put my hand back on the table, and it was a little colder where her cheek would’ve touched.

“That’s what would’ve made us great, but it’s also what makes us impossible.”

She lifted the glass in a silent toast, and I lifted the thimble, and we drank.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

March 3rd 2014

All rights reserved

Why Beyond Panic? (My blogging 101 assignment)

tsunami

I called this blog Beyond Panic, which is not a cheerful name, and may not be something that on the surface people would want to read; I understand that, but such a title is not chosen at random, nor with the intent of discouraging people with a woe-is-me story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Why am I beyond panic?

The story is long and messy, but not boring. Suffice it to say that Murphy’s Law as applied to my life in PA was Murphy’s Law squared, and sometimes cubed, but it taught me some things about myself that I would not have known otherwise: I’m tougher than I ever thought I could be. I can show emotions. When people change, and especially when they betray you, they grow cold to justify their actions. Blood does not equal family. Death is closer than we know, but so is happiness.

And more often than not, things even out with time, just by necessity if nothing else. The ups, you see, do in fact, follow the downs.

Now here in my mid-50’s, having lost everything and having to start over, I’ve never felt more free. Things are a hindrance, and when you have the wrong people added to the wrong things, you’re not just running in place, not getting anywhere, you are sprinting in oil: You fall, and slip backward, and slide forward, your arms are windmilling, and you’re out of control.

THAT is what my life in PA was like. I don’t know why; I tried everything I knew, worked jobs where everyone involved KNEW I was out of my calling, but I had mouths to feed. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the question I so often asked myself: “What are you doing here?”

Don’t get me wrong, PA was a pretty state: fresh air, open space, lots of festivals, good food, good beers, and for the most part, good people. (that’s another post). My children thrived, and grew big and strong, the way kids should grow. The first five years were wonderful: family vacations, learning to fish, summer camps, bike trips, pictures, picnics, swim lessons, music lessons, dance lessons, garage bands, and of course, sports (I was even a T-ball coach; that was an experience!) and then a crucial decision was made on a career choice my wife had to make;  the stakes were high, and it was a gamble, and we lost, and then the downward spiral began, and for me, at least, it never stopped until I left. We never really fully recovered, at least not together.

I had to go back to work, but I had no idea what PA had in store. There was no internet then to job search; I knew no one who could really help, or would if they could, and we were getting dangerously close to losing all we had built, and then, one day, we did. I went into the temp service circus because it was the fastest way to find a job without applying. I tried my hardest.

It was years of wasted effort: dead-end jobs, minimum wage service jobs, lost music equipment, lost apartments,  broken cars, ruined credit, and finally,  never being able to get ahead  anymore, which nailed the marriage coffin shut.

Getting ahead of myself:

So into the wringer I go, and… Wrong color (yes, they actually said that),  overqualified (have a college degree: ‘you’re not going to stay.’ they were probably right), too slow (we need at least 300 of these an hour) incapable of learning (my trainer was flirting with the girls, and I tried to learn on my own, since they didn’t get me a new one when I asked) sleeping on the job (I was working two full time ones with an hour break in between; how I didn’t kill myself or someone else driving back and forth remains a mystery; I consider that divine interference),  all of them stamped on my forehead before I was shown the door. With the first one, I never even got in.

I was not good at office politics either. I never seemed to genuflect fast enough. (That would fall under ‘too slow,’ in more ways than one). See, my resources were in my head, not my hands. I was not an electronics assembler, machine operator, fork lift driver, janitor, line worker, shipping packer, truck loader, messenger, call center salesman, etc.

I was a teacher. (say it with me: Those who can’t DO… Oh, yeah? Why don’t you teach a new poetry unit to this eighth grade class two weeks into May, buddy… can you DO that?)

Well, I’ll share with you what I learned when people hear about what you ‘was.’ ‘WAS’ is the echo of fading glory.

“Who cares? Why all this? Why didn’t you just become a teacher again?”  In a word, favoritism, nepotism, sexism (a new male principal who wanted all female teachers),  ageism (he wanted his fresh out of college) and politics, and in one instance, PTA involvement.  Pick a word.  Any word, and one or more of them will probably apply as well. In short, the reasons had nothing to do with being qualified. My reviews in NY had been good, and in my last year, it had been raised to exceptional.

Stay with me.

As the place developed, and the farmland disappeared, new people with young families began to move in, and none of them worked in PA. They kept their jobs in NY and NJ and put up with the hell of commuting because there was simply no money to be made in PA that would allow them to support their family.

I was circling the drain financially, spiritually, emotionally, maritally, and fill-in-the-ly, when this company threw me a lifeline, and I grabbed it, and began, for the umpteenth time, to pull myself back to shore. When the line was cut again in PA by the company we were contracted to, I looked around for another one to grab.

“Do you want to look at the severance package?” (I wasn’t on the job a year, and it was based on time with the company. I might’ve gotten a Happy Meal out of it).

“No, I don’t. I want to work.”

“We have something in New Jersey.”

“Where?”

“It’s kinda far.”

“Where?”

They told me.

“Go check it out for a couple of days, and if you want to take the severance we’ll go over it with you.” I went out the first day; the second day I took the job. I was so used to doing what was necessary, and I had lost so much  that there was literally nothing holding me in PA anymore. I jettisoned stuff, got out of the lease, and came to Jersey.

So I left, and now I’m here, and now that i have the time, the discipline, and the equipment, I’m pursuing a lifelong dream: to become a published author, and have people spend time with my imagination, and see the images I see in their own way, and relate to my characters, fantasy though they may be, because every fantasy is anchored in some way to a reality.

I’d like them to find that reality in one of my works, as I’ve found some of mine in the works of others: like when the hero is on the verge of defeat, and can’t lift the sword one more time…, but he digs, and it’s slow and painful and everything in him wants to scream: yeah, I’ve been there. Our swords might be different, but that feeling…yeah, I know it now. Or when the woman he’s with says just the right thing at the right time, and he gets that charge…yeah, been there. Or better yet, when he can’t go on, and the giant’s in front of him, and the point of a blade pops out of the giant’s big gut, and he falls, and the hero’s girl is standing back there, looking like Halloween on a bad hair day? Man, are you kidding me? You better go to Jared…and if he’s not there, send out a search party.

Pretentious? Self-aggrandizing? Delusional? I don’t know. I hope one day you’ll read my work and see what you experience…

So, I’m beyond panic because I know this is a stop, not a destination. I no longer feel like I’m being blocked, but incubated. I feel like that Eagles tune where the line says: “So much has happened, that nothing has changed.” In many ways it’s true, but in one very real way it’s not: I’ve changed, and I have the crucible of PA to thank for it.

So much has happened, that nothing happens to me now that I cannot deal with, literally, on every level. If I can’t accomplish it, it’s because I’m the one who gave up, and if PA taught me anything, it was to NEVER give up.

I’ve told people the long, messy, not-boring story, and the usual response is: “Wow. You should write a book about your experiences there.” I don’t know. I’d like to leave it there in the dust, where it properly belongs; time is growing short, and I have other things I want to say.

But if I ever do, this would (will?) definitely be the title.

Hey, thanks for taking the time.